‘Miss Representation’ exposes negative effect of media on women

Last Thursday, the Women of Color Resource Center, the Women’s Center and the leadership studies department sponsored a screening of Miss Representation at Images. The film focused on the challenges women leaders face, particularly the media’s negative portrayal of them. 

The documentary centered around its director, writer and producer, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, who at the time of filming was pregnant with a girl and trying to make sense of the world in which her daughter would grow up.

The film featured interviews with distinguished political leaders such as Nancy Pelosi and Condoleeza Rice, broadcast news reporters such as Katie Couric and Rachel Maddow, television personalities such as Margaret Cho and movie actors such as Rosario Dawson and Jane Fonda. In addition, many high school students, both male and female, were interviewed.

The film discussed many challenges modern women face, including eating disorders and depression. According to the film, technology’s ability to digitally alter photos of women has skewed men, women and children’s perceptions of women. Children are especially harmed when exposed to such altered images, as they are still impressionable. Furthermore, advertisements that feature scantily-clad women cause men to objectify women and women to objectify themselves.

Another topic in the film was women in leadership roles, specifically those who work in government. The United States lags behind many countries in terms of the number of women employed in national legislative bodies, and it has yet to produce a female president. In last year’s midterm elections, women did not make gains in Congress for the first time since 1979. Many of the film’s interviewees noted that they believe women are often better than men at policy-making.

The film also introduced the concept that women frequently face the strongest opposition from other women when trying to make gains in their respective fields. An explanation for this was that women felt that other women were trying to achieve “too much too soon,” which the interviewees suggested was foolish.

Hollywood and the media appear to have the most control over people’s perception of women, according to many of the film’s interviewees. As a result, movies and other pop culture mediums have the ability to change how women are viewed. However, it was noted that women are rarely the protagonists in films, and when they are, their stories often center on men and love. One filmmaker said that he believed women played the most complex and progressive roles in movies of the 1920s and 1930s.

The film also explored the notion that even empowered women often play up their sexuality. Female journalists were discussed in great length, since many viewers focus on their clothing and general appearance as much as the actual content of their speeches.

The documentary also compared Hilary Clinton, who did not play up her sexuality and lost the primary race, with Sarah Palin, who played up her femininity but was degraded by many for doing so.

The film also offered a timeline of women’s advancements. During World War II, women assumed men’s jobs in the workplace; however, they faced major setbacks immediately following the war’s conclusion, being forced out of factories and back into homes. However, women began to make huge progress again in the 60s and 70s. This trend was reversed in the 80s, however, as a return to conservatism swept the nation under the presidency of Ronald Reagan.

Interviewees also discussed the impact of the negative portrayal of women on men. Newsom advocated for the need to educate men about this topic. Additionally, the same way girls growing up are taught to look and act a certain way, boys are taught at a young age to be masculine, to be dominant over women and not to express emotions, she argued.

Newsom and the other interviewees encouraged viewers to challenge media institutions and hold them accountable for their demeaning depictions of women. They prompted women to encourage and support each other.

A short discussion was held after the documentary’s conclusion so audience members could discuss their impressions of and reactions to the film.Topics included the presence of sexism in even the most liberal of workplaces, the perpetuation of the negative cycle of female portrayal by women themselves, the difficulty of changing expectations and perceptions of women and using one’s sexuality to get ahead. Finally, students related the issue back to the College and talked about what can be done to continue the spread of this message.